Tag Archives: Wildlife

Elusive Birds, Flowers In Winter

White Hellebore in Flower 2nd January

White Hellebore in Flower 2nd January

This morning was quite a treat. While there was still sleep in my eyes, pouring the first coffee, I was treated to the sight of goldfinches happily feeding. Then, as I stood watching though the kitchen window, a flock of long tailed tits descended. I haven’t seen them for a long time. So I set up my brand new radio remote for my camera and attempted to get some shots to show you, but the light levels are far too low to capture anything but a blur. I went back out to retrieve my camera and while I stood there, right in front of the feeders, a long tail came down, fearless, fed in front of me and sang. Just a foot away from me. I could see his delicate, tiny legs, the downy feathers of his body and his eyes met mine. Such a delight, and a huge antidote to the chaos of the world we’re forced to live in. These are the moments worth living for. My poor dog Daisy was forced to wait to be allowed in the garden until the birds left for a while.

It’s too wet to do much on the garden, but making room in the conservatory will enable the sowing of early cauliflowers and salad, which after the excesses of Christmas  stodge, I’m craving.

Wandering around, I found there are still things flowering. So here are a couple of them. I’ll try again to get some photos of the birds, once light levels increase and there’s no danger of my precious camera getting wet. I hope to capture lots of wildlife, once they wake up after their winter sleep.

For now, enjoy your garden.

bergenia

Bergenia in Flower 2nd January

Garden Makeover Progress And A Grass Snake

Cherry Blossom

Cherry Blossom

The garden makeover continues more slowly than I’d like, largely thanks to illness requiring antibiotics. However, it is coming along. My son has been helping out, and the veg beds are almost ready for planting up with broad beans, potatoes, khol rabi, cabbage, turnips and the peas just showing through the compost in modules. I haven’t even tried to sow peas in the ground as my earliest sowing of beans were eaten by mice. Starting plants off in modules deprives them of the chance to take the seed for breakfast before they’ve even had time to germinate!

Around the pond I have begun planting, adding some cowslips in the shady spot close to the fence, an iris in addition to the ones donated by my landscaper,  geranium Phaeum Samobor,  with a lovely deep pink flower which should supply some fairly dense cover for the wildlife. It grows about 60cm high, so may need some support, especially as I want to grow small, more delicate plants close by. I don’t want them smothered or the geranium to flop and leave a hollow centre. I’ve also put in three astilbes that begun as one plant last year and  I split into three. I spotted vine weevil as I was planting, so watered in some Nemasys, a natural predator of the little horrid beasts. Once watered in, the tiny nematodes swim through the soil to find vine weevil larvae and destroy them, so hopefully they will be cleared and cease to eat my plant roots.

I’ve ordered online some oxygenating weed for the pond, which is going a bit green due to my delay in getting to an aquatic centre. Once I have all the plants for the pond I’ll let you know what they are and why I chose them. For now it’s just elodea crispa to take up some of the nutrients in the water and reduce the amount of algae growing. I hope to but the rest of the plants this weekend if my partner can spare the time to take me as driving isn’t an option until my cataracts are removed. I will of course choose one water lily, but there are so many to choose from I’m going to need a bit of advice!

My cherry blossoms are just beginning their spectacular yearly display. The colours are just to die for, and always make my heart sing. Lungwort, cowslips, primroses, grape hyacinths, heathers and more are attracting and feeding bees and butterflies already, despite the garden only being half finished. The bees don’t care that some plants are still in pots. They visit them anyway.

My partner has returned from walking our dog as I am writing this and had an exciting find in the local woods. So here it is! A grass snake. It’s great to see we have plenty of wildlife in the area. I’ve never seen a grass snake in the wild, so I’m envious I wasn’t there, but pleased at the same time. I hope as they are around they’ll come to visit my garden. The addition of a pond can surely only help to attract animals in. The snake was on a path right next to a stream.

Grass Snake

Grass Snake

Tomorrow I hope to be planting the brassicas I’ve mentioned and protecting them under fine netting which will keep out cabbage white butterflies, pigeons and the pheasant. Hopefully that will mean more crops for us and less for the pests!

Healthy Broad Beans About To Be Planted

Healthy Broad Beans About To Be Planted

Well, I did plant those vegetables. We will have food this year from my brand new beds. I’ve put in my sturdy broad beans, cabbage, turnips and khol rabi. They are all under protection from pigeons and cabbage white butterflies. It’s a relief to get them out of their modules. The greenhouse needs elastic walls! It’s burgeoning with the seedlings, cuttings and overwintered fuchsias that can now be moved into the cold frames vacated by the first veg.

The New Vegetable Bed Now Planted.

The New Vegetable Bed Now Planted.

My Overflowing Greenhouse

My Overflowing Greenhouse

I’ve also spent some time clearing weeds from the back of the main border, digging up even more Spanish bluebells and rescuing seedlings I want to keep before ordering some topsoil. The soil in the main bed is sadly lacking in quality from the rest of the garden and needs building up, both in height and nutrients, so next week my son will help get the delivery from the pavement and spread it so I can continue planting and filling gaps. I have quite a few waiting in the wings. Phew! Busy busy. How does your garden grow? Please talk to me, or I’ll feel as if I’m talking to myself. Never a good thing!

Raised Beds, A Wildlife Pond And Flowers For The Birds And Bees.

The landscapers I brought in to get the garden bones in place have now finished. There is still a mass of work to do, but now it’s manageable. With a little more topping up in my new raised beds I can set about planting out broad beans waiting in the cold frame, potatoes chitting on the windowsill and all manner of other vegetables. The plan is to edge my plot with four feet high trellis, then train fruit against it. I hope to have raspberries, loganberries, a thornless blackberry and other soft fruits.

Although the new veg beds appear to my partner to look like not much more space than before, as the beds are only four feet wide, I can reach in from the sides and not have to tread on the soil. This is advantageous for a number of reasons. I will be able to cope better with weeding and planting (and of course harvesting) from the path. The vegetables can be spaced closer together, as there is no need to leave room for walking between rows, and now more of the garden is available for other activities. Now that we have the pond, my dog Daisy is going to have her own paddling pool. She loves water, so I can’t expect her to NOT play in some, and I’d rather it wasn’t my wildlife pond. Chasing the hose pipe to bite the water is her favourite game! That will be taking place well away from my new flower borders. In fact I’m going to have to protect plants from her bashing them until her play area is established. That will be fun!

Here Is here we are placing the raised beds, once the shed has been moved into dead space under the trees.

Here Is where we are placing the raised beds, once the shed has been moved into dead space under the trees.

The Shed now gone, raised beds can be built.

The Shed now gone, raised beds can be built.

And here they are, my super access raised beds which I hope will help feed us!

And here they are, my super access raised beds which I hope will help feed us!

I’ll do a separate post talking more about the pond, but basically it’s 6’8” x 4’6”, and 2’ deep at its deepest. We’ve made a shelf for creatures to get in and out, as I went for a preformed liner to avoid Daisy piercing the liner. So to compensate, wildlife need an escape route as these ponds don’t have the gentle slope you can make with a butyl liner. I have a visitor arriving soon so it will be Tuesday or Wednesday before I can go and buy more plants for the pond, or start the work on the garden. Mike, the landscaper who installed it, kindly brought me some irises to start me off. I have yellow flag in the pond, a British native that dragonflies love as the sword like leaves make great perching spots while they hunt. We’ve already had an official pond visitor. A toad! How cool is that?

The pond under construction

The pond under construction

Pond Completed, Apart From Some Planting.

Pond Completed, Apart From Some Planting.

I’m really pleased with the path, and glad I chose gravel. It gives me great grip when walking on it, and I am trying to age proof this garden so I can keep going on it when I’m even more feeble! Paving tends to get slippery and bricks were not an option due to time and cost. Although it all looks very stark yet, I’m sure once the planting is in place it will all soften down. I have three arch supports to place, too, which I hope will support some of the climbing plants I want to grow. Runner beans and bottle gourds, maybe even a couple of butternut squash, which I love.

My imagination is now running riot. Although I had the overall vision in mind when I set the landscapers to work, they have put in the bones. I now have to flesh it all out. My greenhouse is bulging with plants, but I have a feeling they won’t actually go far once I plant them all, so I need to sow more, grow more, take more cuttings and buy more plants. But this is the cool part, the pleasure of choosing and placing. Follow me this season to see great changes and how I make them. I’ll ensure plenty of information for you to have a go or not, because I’ll also tell you if things go wrong and why. Then you can avoid MY mistakes.

Remember the lilies from my last post? I’ve treated myself to some nice containers and planted them up, topped with gravel and now have to wait. Photos when there is something to show you! Some of the specialist seeds have germinated, too and are now being careful tended by yours truly. I’m particularly pleased to see papaver horridula seedlings adorning a pot. From what I’ve read, these hymalayan poppies are not easy to grow. They need an acid soil, which I have, so hopefully I’ll be able to raise them to maturity. Others are proving more tricky, but I am slowly getting results. Ultimately I have a lot of space to fill and seeds are far more economical then buying plants, so the more success I have the sooner the garden will be buzzing with bees and butterflies attracted by all my lovely flowers.

Lilies, Vine Weevil And Wind.

What a weekend. As the garden itself is on hold until the landscapers have finished, I have turned my attention to seeds, cuttings and pots. I’ve always put up with the plastic containers until now, but as I’ve just bought some beautiful lilies, have the space and found some bargain frost proof pots, I’ve spent this very windy morning planting them up. I haven’t grown these bulbs before, but handily, in this month’s gardeners world Carol Klein describes full planting directions. So although they aren’t at the spacing you’d give then in the ground, they should have all they need to give me a great display this summer on the patio. They are scented so I want them where we can appreciate them. The bulbs that have gone in are Polianthes Tuberosa,

Polianthes Tuberosa

Polianthes Tuberosa

Lycoris Radiata (red spider lily)

Lycoris Ratiata

Lycoris Ratiata

Ismene (white spider lily)

Ismene (white spider lily)

Ismene (white spider lily)

And Nerine Bowdenii

Nerine bowdenii

Nerine Bowdeii (Guernsey lily)

What beauties!

I’ve also battled the wind to water all of my containers with nematodes to remove any vine weevil grubs. I found a couple of pots with grubs in and half-eaten roots, but I think I’ve caught them on time. Some plants like my pots of mint have been thoroughly sorted out. I washed the roots completely clean of compost and laid them out in fresh. Still, I’ve watered them with the treatment too. You never know if I missed a grub or egg, so it’s not worth the risk. My little Japanese Maple had some in when I went to check it, so that’s had special attention. Plenty of the nematodes as well as fresh compost.

Now it’s back to seed sowing. Lots of the ones sown earlier are now germinating, including the poppy Papaver Horridula. The seedlings are tiny! Veg seedling are ready to go in, and will soon be planted out in my new beds. So to keep the succession going I need to sow more. It’s also time to sow peas and beans. I’m going to be busy. What are you doing now for your garden and wildlife?

Best Laid Garden Plans Need Patience!

Hard Work Happening With A Smile

Hard Work Happening With A Smile

Lots of patience was needed yesterday. It was to be the big day. Gravel sand, weed suppressant membrane and a pond were all due to arrive. The pond did, with a phone call ten minutes before delivery to let us know. Great stuff! Gravel and the other stuff next, we thought. It was late. The landscapers did what they could whilst waiting. Then I phoned the delivery company. Our load had been put on a truck that had broken down. Great. 5pm, they said. 4.30 till 5pm was their estimated delivery time. 5pm nothing. 5.15pm, I was getting agitated. Annoyed even. The weather had been perfect all day for laying a concrete base. The landscapers were prepared to stay late to get it done. 5.30pm. The truck finally arrives. Three 850k sacks of gravel and one of sand. Landscaping fabric. But the driver can’t get the goods off the truck. They had been loaded incorrectly, which had broken the pallets AND the lift he had on board was broken. No less than a comedy of errors. Only I wasn’t laughing. None of us were, especially when the trucking company wouldn’t even call back with a solution. It took my landscaper’s silver tongue to get them to organise a delivery today, Good Friday, first thing.

It's starting to take shape

It’s Starting To Take Shape

I am now very pleased to be showing you photos of a work still in progress, but now much further on. The lads have worked hard. The pond is being installed, the path is coming on and preparations to move the shed and lay the shed base are underway. It’s not a pretty site yet but it will be. At the moment it’s more like a building site, and because of the rain, going in and out to check on things and Daisy running in and out, I’m grateful to have exposed wooden floors indoors that I can mop!

Still Going In The Rain

Still Going In The Rain

So I’m spending my Easter dreaming of the ‘finished’ garden and pond. Looking at pond plants, learning from the landscapers how to make the best of the pond. It’s not an area of expertise for me. It’s a new learning curve. A very enjoyable one, too! I know I’ll need elodea crispa to oxygenate the water, and I know I want a corkscrew rush. And Mike (one of the landscapers) is giving me some yellow flag iris from his pond, in exchange for a chocolate peppermint plant.

So here are some photos of progress from my bedroom window. I would have taken some from the garden this afternoon, but the guys are being rained off as I write. It’s fortunate that gardening teaches patience. Because patience is needed. I hope I have enough to see this through!

Massive Progress In The Garden About To Begin

Fuchsia, My father's and my favourite lower

Fuchsia, My father’s and my favourite flower

Tomorrow is a huge day in the life of my garden and myself. It’s been a journey of three years plus to get this far. I’ve struggled with health, bereavement, injury and lack of finances through the recession. But that now all changes. I am very happy to say that two men will be turning up at 9am to start digging out the path that will allow safe, level and easy access right down my garden. The shed we put in the wrong place will be moved and the metal one which got buried under last autumn’s leaves will be erected in the correct place. My pre-formed pond liner arrives on Friday and my newly acquired team will be installing that for me. THEN I can really get going. All the seedlings I’ve optimistically sown will actually make it onto the ground. I am over the moon. Once the shed has been moved  to the bottom of the garden under the trees I will be able to have raised beds I can access without straining myself or risking tripping up (my legs don’t always do as they’re told these days).

To add to my delight, my seeds, listed in my last post, have arrived. I can sow them while my team get to work on the heavy stuff. I can also continue to sort out my containers, rescuing fuchsias and bulbs that have survived the last eight months of neglect. And even further (yes, it’s good news week!) I saw new friend today at my craft club whose partner is into fuchsias in a big way. This means a lot. My father, who died last summer, was the same. He went to a fuchsia specialist to buy his plants, raised and cosseted them like babies. I inherited his love of them. Now my friend says I can meet her husband and he will no doubt let me have cuttings. I can’t wait!

So much to do at this time of year, and so wonderful that my whole attitude towards the garden has changed for the better. I spent last winter  feeling quite depressed after having to leave it alone all these months. I feared I wouldn’t be able to get on top of it and make it the stunning garden I know it could be. Now I’m so enthusiastic it’s the first thing I think about when I wake, eager to see the next seedling emerge or a plant sprout shoots outside. Gardening will never leave me. My connection to the life cycle is too strong for me to let go so to find a way to cope with my physical limitations is wonderful.

I’ve even found a way to have a unique table on the patio! We have an old metal cage which was a stage set (we ran events in the past) will become a base for the table top, which I found on Ebay. A hardwood top which, if I’d bought it with legs and paid the normal price would have been four times the price. It will look great when I’ve painted the base, and maybe the top, to go with the chairs I got last year.

Feeding The Bees From Spring Until Fall

Doronicum. Bee magnet from the start!

Doronicum. Bee magnet from the start!

Exciting new plants!

I’ve now got some help with my garden, and the greenhouse is filling up with seedlings. It’s been cleared of all debris, dead plants and empty pots, the benching moved around for my summer tomato growing and still has room for more trays. So, as my borders will be expanding with the extra help coming, I want to incorporate even more pollen rich, bee friendly plants that also please me. I’ve decided to indulge myself in perennials, but I’m not going to spend a fortune. I’ve ordered packets of seeds, so I will have to wait a while longer for flowers, but ultimately will have many more of them for the bees and moths and butterflies to feast on.

I already grow some of the best, such as Hebes that have practically flowered all winter and are still doing so. And I have bought some flowering plants as I’ve seen them. No sooner had I brought home a doronicum (see Photo)  than a bumble bee landed on it to feed. The same is true of the heather. We’re lucky enough to have slightly acid soil, so heathers love it. I plan for more!

Mecanopsis Horridla. Much more beautiful than it's name would suggest.

Mecanopsis Horridula. Much more beautiful than it’s name would suggest.

I placed my perennial seed order yesterday. Some are quite rare or scarce. I haven’t seen them in the garden centre. And I want something different, unusual, so chose ones unfamiliar to me, that sound exciting, but that are also good bee plants. Here’s my list. I can’t wait for them to arrive!

Liatris Aspera, a gorgeous pink open flower the bees will love. Thalictrum Aqueligifolium Album, white fluffy pollen laden heads, angelica gigas, which has red flower heads and stands 5 feet tall. It’s stunning, will feed the bees, then the birds if we don’t harvest the seeds for ourselves. Viola Odorata is rather more diminutive, has a gorgeous scent, sweet flowers for those bees and a lovely colour. Then there’s Meconopsis Horridula. I must admit, I’ve always wanted to grow the Himalayan poppies and never had the right soil. I do have that here, but the name of this one struck me as my partner writes horror fiction. And of course bees love poppies! This next one is a biennial, but of course once I have it I can allow it to seed or take seed to keep it going every year. I hadn’t heard of it before, but as an umbelifer will doubtless make a good bee plant. Seseli Gummiferum (common name Moon Carrot) is listed by the Gardeners World’s website as a superb garden plant that likes good drainage. Here is the advantage of latin names. I put Moon Carrot into Google. It told me that this was a rare British native growing only in a couple of places. But wait. That’s Sesesli Libanotis! It looks the same, but growing conditions would be very different, as Gummiferum is from Spain/Portugal and needs sun and great drainage. Always check the Latin names if you want to be accurate with growing conditions, height and spread of plants.

Verbasum Chaxii. Stunning!

Verbasum Chaxii. Stunning!

I’m sure most gardeners will have grown Centaurea, the blue cornflower. I’ve found the orentalis form, which is a stunning yellow, to add to my collection. Campanula Latifolia, standing about 4ft tall, white with lovely conical flowers should be a hit with the bees  and hoverflies as well as brightening a semi shaded border. Geranium Pastel clouds seeds sound really good. Apparently you can’t buy plants here in Britain, so the only way to grow these is from seed. I love geraniums, and I know the insects do, too. These geraniums should self sow and are very delicate and pretty, so I hope they do! I had to have another penstemon, too, after the one I have giving so much last year. It flowered its heart out, and was being constantly visited by bees. So I’ve ordered Penstemon Lyallii, a lovely pink form. I’ve saved the best until last. Verbasum Chaixii is absolutely stunning, has open flowers that will shine like beacons to any passing bee or human!

Once I add all these beautiful wonder of nature, my bee offerings will be much more substantial. Seed sowing will allow me more plants than I could afford to buy in one go and I’m adding to a collection aimed for wildlife as well as myself.

If you want to feed the bees and welcome wildlife, grow flowers that are open in the centre and have lots of nectar or or pollen. For example, if you grow dahlias, which you can from seed. Mine have just come through, choose something like Coltness hybrids, which give bees easy access to the pollen. Single rather that double or cactus type flower heads are best. Check seed sites and catalogues when ordering. Many now indicate which they recommend for bees or butterflies or both. And have as many different choices for them as possible. Scientists state that like us, bees need a varied diet so that they get a good balance of nutrients, and we all know what happens if we don’t balance our diets in a healthy way.

There’s an archived post listing early spring  flowers to feed the bees if you want more information.